Observatory & Day and Night Observing Programs

Observatory Details

Observatory Details

Bays Mountain Park is home to two observatory structures housing a number of telescopic instruments. The smaller “roll-off” observatory was first opened around 1980. The “domed” observatory was completed in 1989. Both were constructed by club members and park staff.

The current roster of instruments includes…

  • Custom 8″ refractor owned by Milligan College.
  • A 12″ Meade LX200-GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain on a computer controlled mount.
  • A large aperture, customized 17.5″ reflector on an alt-azimuth Dobsonian-style mount. Designed and refurbished by Bays Mountain Astronomy Club members.
  • A 6″ Meade APO refractor mounted on a portable alt-azimuth tripod mount.
  • A superb Newtonian 10″ reflector with optics by Jerry Lappin, a founding Astronomy Club member.
  • And many other scopes!

The Bays Mountain Astronomy Club and planetarium staff use all of these telescopes at various times to show the public astronomical sights in both the daytime and nighttime skies.

Bays Mountain Park Clear Sky Chart

Click on the chart below to go to the Clear Sky Chart’s website to learn all the details on how to correctly read all of the information. Clicking on the chart in their website brings up all sorts of detailed information.

Essentially, you want dark blue for the first four rows. Dark blue means no cloud cover, very transparent (no haze), excellent seeing (steady skies with no turbulence), and fully dark. For the next two rows, dark blue means no wind and very low humidity. The last row is temperature. Dark blue is super cold (-40°F – -31°F), white is at freezing (23°F – 32°F), and bright orange is (68°F – 77°F).


Public Observing Programs

Public Observing Programs

Our observing programs are free for everyone! Please check the schedule for the next day or night viewing session. If attending one of our evening observing sessions, be sure to dress warmly, it can become very cold after the Sun goes down. To be comfortable, dress for temperatures that are 20° colder than expected nighttime temperatures. The Bays Mountain Observatories are located along Bays Mountain Park Road just up from the dam. Look for the small circular building with a domed top. Please park in the parking lot and walk along the gravel road to reach the observatory grounds.

 

StarWatch at Bays Mountain Observatory, March 21, 2015. Even though the sky was quite overcast, it was thin, allowing us to see Venus and Jupiter. Photo by Adam Thanz.

StarWatch at Bays Mountain Observatory, March 21, 2015. Even though the sky was quite overcast, it was thin, allowing us to see Venus and Jupiter. Photo by Adam Thanz.

StarWatch – at the Observatory

 

March, April, October and November

Saturday Evenings

Starts at dusk.

 

View the night sky with many large telescopes at our observatories. Typically our telescopes can show you star clusters, nebulous gas clouds, colorful multiple star systems and distant galaxies. Seeing features of the bright planets and our nearest neighbor, the Moon, is remarkable. The instruments at Bays Mountain reveal thousands of craters, mountains and lava plains.

Be sure to bring warm clothes for the Nighttime Observing. Though the day may be sunny and warm, the temperature can drop after the sun goes down. Having the proper clothing will make your experience much more enjoyable.

If there is inclement weather, a free alternate live tour of the night sky in the planetarium theater will be available.

 

 

SunWatch – at the Dam

 

March through October

Clear Saturday and Sunday afternoons

3 – 3:30 p.m (viewing is cancelled if cloudy)

Safely view the surface of the Sun through a specially filtered telescope. With our instrument it is possible to view a wide variety of features on the Sun including sunspots.

 

Astronomy Day

Astronomy Day

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Join the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club in celebration of The International Day of Astronomy!

Learn about the science and hobby of astronomy.

Perfect fun for the entire family!

Highlights:  Bays Mountain Astronomy Club members will be providing a number of fascinating displays and hands-on activities. Learn about astronomy, telescopes, careers and education in astronomy, the sun and more! The club will also be hosting daytime viewing of the sun and nighttime viewing of the Moon, Jupiter, and much more!

All non-planetarium astronomy-related activities are free on Astronomy Day!
Planetarium tickets are $5 per person for ages 6 and above.

Schedule of Events

Afternoon:
1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Displays & Information (free!): Walkway in front of Nature Center (inside Nature Center, if raining.)

3 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Solar Viewing (free!):  Dam.
Thrill at viewing different layers of the Sun up close and in great detail. Safely see sunspots and prominences. Weather dependent.

Evening:
8:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Nighttime Viewing (free!):  Observatory.
Spectacular views of celestial delights await you with the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club’s telescopes. Savor a wonderful view of the colorful bands of Jupiter and it’s four largest moons, feel like you’re flying low over the moon, and be awe-struck by the distance to galaxies. These views and more will be seen at our Observatory. A live presentation about what is up in the night sky will take place in the Planetarium Theater, if the weather does not cooperate.

Special Sky Happenings For You To Do At Home

The following events are fantastic opportunities for you to explore astronomy in your own backyard.

 

Archive For Reference Only

Note:  These listings are for ARCHIVAL REFERENCE ONLY. Even though these events have passed, there is still a lot of good information regarding viewing and photographic techniques.

 

 

August 21, 2017 – Total Solar Eclipse

 

Safety:

Solar eclipses are lots of fun, but you have to be extremely safe in viewing. Looking at the Sun at any time is dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage. There are proper solar filters available, but some home-brewed methods are not safe and should not be used. The very safest way to view is to project the image of the Sun from a pinhole. You can even use a kitchen colander! Sorry, we are sold out of solar glasses.

About solar eclipses:

Solar eclipses occur when the Moon travels between the Sun and the Earth so accurately, observers on certain parts of the Earth can see a “bite” taken out of the Sun!

total solar eclipse is when the Moon perfectly aligns with the Sun and the entire Sun is blocked. This is very rare, but allows us to see the Sun’s corona for a very short time. A partial solar eclipse is when the Moon doesn’t perfectly align with the Sun and at best, we see only part of the Sun blocked by the Moon. An total annular eclipse is when the Moon and Sun align, but the Moon is a little farther away than normal in its orbit from the Earth.  The result is a ring of sunlight surrounding the Moon.

How to View:

As stated earlier, you can project the image of the Sun easily for safe viewing. Essentially, you need a piece of foil that is reinforced with clear tape on both sides and make a small, very clean pin hole in the taped area. Get or make a long (~4 ft.) cardboard box and cut a hole in one end that is about an inch wide. Take that foil with the pin hole and tape it inside the box where the inch wide hole is in the cardboard. Place a piece of white paper inside the other end of the long box to project the image onto. Then, cut a viewing portal on the side of the long box near the white paper to see the projected image. Point the end with the foil toward the Sun and look at the image on the white paper.

Click here to open the Super Sun Viewer PDF document.

When & Where to Look:

The eclipse is passing across the contiguous United States with mid-eclipse occurring around 2:30 in the afternoon for the Eastern Time Zone.
For all the details, please visit http://eclipse2017.nasa.gov

Another excellent resource is this interactive Google Map.

Good luck, hope for clear weather, be safe, and enjoy!

Special Note:

The planetarium theater and the observatory will be closed on August 21, 2017. All the planetarium staff will be off-premise working with the Appalachian Eclipse Excursion. Sorry, the excursion is sold out.

 

September 27, 2015 – Total Lunar Eclipse

 

When & Where to Look:

The entire September 27, 2015 total lunar eclipse will be seen anywhere in the Eastern US and Canada, which is good news for the Tri-cities area. Also, it will begin about two hours after sunset, a perfect time to catch this fascinating celestial event. Here are the times:

  • 1st contact: 9:07 p.m. EDT – when the Earth’s shadow just touches the edge of the moon
  • Beginning of Totality: 10:11 p.m. EDT – when the moon is completely eclipsed
  • mid eclipse: 10:48 p.m. EDT – when the moon is deepest in the Earth’s shadow
  • End of Totality: 11:23 p.m. EDT – when the moon begins to leave the Earth’s shadow
  • 4th contact: 12:27 a.m. EDT – when the Earth’s shadow just leaves the edge of the moon

During the eclipse, the Moon will be rising in the East about 30 to 40 degrees above the horizon. Good luck, hope for clear weather, and enjoy!

Geometry_of_a_Lunar_Eclipse600px

About lunar eclipses:

A lunar eclipse is a special celestial event in which the moon travels through the earth’s shadow. This occurs when the sun, earth, and moon (in that order) are in almost an exact line. In astronomy, this is called a syzygy. Lunar eclipses take place during full moon phase. The shadow, though, has two parts. An umbra and penumbra. The umbra is the central, darker part of the shadow. The penumbra is the outer, lighter shadow. If the moon travels through the penumbra, the alignment of the sun, earth and moon is not so straight and the moon will only get a little dimmer. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse. If the moon completely travels through the umbra, then the alignment is very good and the moon will get quite dark. This is called a total lunar eclipse. If the moon only travels through part of the umbra, then it is called a partial lunar eclipse.

A total lunar eclipse can be startling since the earth’s round shadow (proof that the earth is round and not flat) seems to take a bite out of the very bright full moon. Another interesting aspect is that the shadow is not starkly black. There is a gradual fading due to the earth’s atmosphere. And, if that weren’t enough, the earth’s atmosphere acts as a filter to tint the shadow red. Particulate matter like dust, pollen, volcanic ash, and more can scatter the sun’s light as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere and then shine onto the eclipsed moon. This scattering reddens the light. If the earth’s air is clean, then there is almost no reddening. If there happen to be a large volcanic eruption with lots of ash suspended in the upper atmosphere of the earth, then that can deeply redden the light. However red an eclipse may be, it is always a lot of fun to watch the slow progression from a bright, full moon to a dim, red moon.

 

 How to View:

Lunar eclipses are easy to view. Since most anyone can see the full moon with their unaided eyes, then that is all that you need. It will be obvious over the eclipses’ few hours the gradual dimming and, hopefully, reddening of the moon. The stars in the background will not be washed out and so the eclipsed moon can look very three-dimensional against the background stars. If you have a pair of binoculars, then your view will be slightly magnified, but will really emphasize that 3-D look during mid-eclipse. A telescope allows an eerie view of the reddened moon. Any way you look, it is really neat.

If you want to photograph this event, you can try with your digital camera, especially if it allows a longer exposure. Try different settings and experiment. Get something in the foreground for interest and composition.

———————————————————————-

October 23, 2014 – Partial Solar Eclipse

 

Safety:

Solar eclipses are lots of fun, but you have to be extremely safe in viewing. Looking at the sun at any time is dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage. There are proper solar filters available, but some home-brewed methods are not safe and should not be used. The very safest way to view is to project the image of the sun from a pinhole.

About solar eclipses:

Solar eclipses occur when the moon travels between the sun and the earth so accurately, observers on certain parts of the earth can see a “bite” taken out of the sun!

A total solar eclipse is when the moon perfectly aligns with the sun and the entire sun is blocked. This is very rare, but allows us to see the sun’s corona for a very short time. A partial solar eclipse is when the moon doesn’t perfectly align with the sun and at best, we see only part of the sun blocked by the moon. An total annular eclipse is when the moon and sun align, but the moon is a little farther away than normal in its orbit from the earth.  The result is a ring of sunlight surrounding the moon.

How to View:

As stated earlier, you can project the image of the sun easily for safe viewing. Essentially, you need a piece of foil that is reinforced with clear tape on both sides and make a small, very clean pin hole in the taped area. Get or make a long (~4 ft.) cardboard box and cut a hole in one end that is about an inch wide. Take that foil with the pin hole and tape it inside the box where the inch wide hole is in the cardboard. Place a piece of white paper inside the other end of the long box to project the image onto. Then, cut a viewing portal on the side of the long box near the white paper to see the projected image. Point the end with the foil toward the sun and look at the image on the white paper.

Click here to open the Super Sun Viewer PDF document.

When & Where to Look:

1st contact: 5:56 p.m. EDT; alt: 8° 20′; WSW – when the moon just touches the edge of the sun

sun sets: 6:37 p.m. EDT; WSW

As you can see, the sun sets about 40 minutes after 1st contact and you’ll need a good, super-low WSW horizon. Good luck, hope for clear weather, be safe, and enjoy!

A graphical view of the partial solar eclipse on Oct. 23, 2014 as seen from East Tennessee. Notice how low the sun is at first contact in the WSW sky.

A graphical view of the partial solar eclipse on Oct. 23, 2014 as seen from East Tennessee. You will never see the moon at all during a solar eclipse. Also, this image represents the greatest eclipse we would see if looking over a perfectly flat horizon.

 

———————————————————————-

October 8, 2014 – Total Lunar Eclipse

 

About lunar eclipses:

A lunar eclipse is a special celestial event in which the moon travels through the earth’s shadow. This occurs when the sun, earth, and moon (in that order) are in almost an exact line. In astronomy, this is called a syzygy. Lunar eclipses take place during full moon phase. The shadow, though, has two parts. An umbra and penumbra. The umbra is the central, darker part of the shadow. The penumbra is the outer, lighter shadow. If the moon travels through the penumbra, the alignment of the sun, earth and moon is not so straight and the moon will only get a little dimmer. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse. If the moon completely travels through the umbra, then the alignment is very good and the moon will get quite dark. This is called a total lunar eclipse. If the moon only travels through part of the umbra, then it is called a partial lunar eclipse.

A total lunar eclipse can be startling since the earth’s round shadow (proof that the earth is round and not flat) seems to take a bite out of the very bright full moon. Another interesting aspect is that the shadow is not starkly black. There is a gradual fading due to the earth’s atmosphere. And, if that weren’t enough, the earth’s atmosphere acts as a filter to tint the shadow red. Particulate matter like dust, pollen, volcanic ash, and more can scatter the sun’s light as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere and then shine onto the eclipsed moon. This scattering reddens the light. If the earth’s air is clean, then there is almost no reddening. If there happen to be a large volcanic eruption with lots of ash suspended in the upper atmosphere of the earth, then that can deeply redden the light. However red an eclipse may be, it is always a lot of fun to watch the slow progression from a bright, full moon to a dim, red moon.

How to View:

Lunar eclipses are easy to view. Since most anyone can see the full moon with their unaided eyes, then that is all that you need. It will be obvious over the eclipses’ few hours the gradual dimming and, hopefully, reddening of the moon. The stars in the background will not be washed out and so the eclipsed moon can look very three-dimensional against the background stars. If you have a pair of binoculars, then your view will be slightly magnified, but will really emphasize that 3-D look during mid-eclipse. A telescope allows an eerie view of the reddened moon. Any way you look, it is really neat.

If you want to photograph this event, you can try with your digital camera, especially if it allows a longer exposure. Try different settings and experiment. Get something in the foreground for interest and composition.

When & Where to Look:

The October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse will be seen anywhere in this area. But, it is really late at night. In fact, the moon will set before the end of the complete eclipse. Here are the times:

1st contact: 5:15 a.m. EDT – when the earth’s shadow just touches the edge of the moon
mid eclipse: 6:55 a.m. EDT – when the moon is deepest in the earth’s shadow
moon sets: 7:31 a.m. EDT
4th contact: 8:34 a.m. EDT – when the earth’s shadow just leaves the edge of the moon

As you can see, mid eclipse is just before sunrise and you’ll need a good, low W horizon. Good luck, hope for clear weather, and enjoy!

A graphical view of the total lunar eclipse on Oct. 8, 2014 as seen from East Tennessee. Mid-eclipse. Notice how low the moon is in the western sky.

———————————————————————-

May 24, 2014 – Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

 

About meteor showers:

Meteor showers are fun, astronomical events that require no equipment to view. All you need is a dark sky, a lawn chair, and a good view of the sky. Scientifically, a meteor shower is when the earth passes through the ice and dust debris left over from the pass of a comet. The earth will not strike the comet, just its leftover “bread crumbs.” The “shower” moniker comes from the illusion that the meteors are “showering” down upon us. A better analogy is to think of driving at night when it is snowing. The car’s headlights shine on the nearby snowflakes allowing us to see them. But, the car is moving forward, making it seem that the snow is flying toward us. If the car is stopped, the snow will be seen to just fall downwards. The tiny bits of ice and dust from a comet, usually the size of a grain of sand, are swept up by the earth’s atmosphere and then the gravity of the earth takes over. The speed of these particles is around 35 km/s (~ 78,000 mph). Due to the angle of approach, the speed can range from half to double this rate. Sometimes, there is a fresh clump of debris from a recently-passing comet and the shower can become, hopefully, a meteor storm. Meteor storms have rates of over 1,000 meteors per hour. Meteor storms are very rare. If they occur, you need to be on the right part of the earth, and the storm may last only 10-15 min. There are many showers throughout the year. The most famous are the Perseids seen in mid August and the Leonids seen in mid November. Each meteor shower has a radiant that it is named after. The aforementioned Perseids seem to come from the constellation Perseus, though it has nothing to do with the constellation.

How to View:

As stated before, you just need a dark sky, a lawn chair, and a good view of the sky. No equipment necessary. If a few of you are observing together, then point in slightly different directions to see a larger swath of the sky. Usually, after midnight is also best. This way, the earth is plowing directly into the path, instead of being at an oblique angle.

When & Where to Look:

The reason this meteor shower is being listed here is due to the recent pass of the Camelopardalids parent comet, 209P/LINEAR. Recent studies are stating that there is a nice, large clump of debris, possibly containing larger-than-normal bits, that the earth will pass through between 2:30 a.m. – 6 a.m. EDT on the early morning of May 24, 2014. The peak may be around 3 a.m., but there is uncertainty in the timing and quality of the shower. The moon will also not be a major issue due to it being in a late waning crescent phase. This shower’s radiant is the constellation of Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. Don’t worry, it’s in the direction between the North Star (Polaris) and the nose of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) which is just forward and up a bit from the scoop of the Big Dipper. Numbers vary greatly as to the predicted maximum rate, less than 100 to over 1,000 meteors per hour if all were seen to radiate from the zenith. But, these meteors may be bright and slow moving. Combining these characteristics means that we may see 25-a few hundred per hour, coming from the north, and being slow and bright. If the weather is clear, take a gander in the early hours of May 24, 2014 and hope for the best.

Here’s a link for more information.

The sky at 3 a.m., May 24, 2014 for the East Tennessee area. The red circle denotes the radiant, the apparent directional source of the meteors.

———————————————————————-

April 15, 2014 – Total Lunar Eclipse

 

About lunar eclipses:

A lunar eclipse is a special celestial event in which the moon travels through the earth’s shadow. This occurs when the sun, earth, and moon (in that order) are in almost an exact line. In astronomy, this is called a syzygy. Lunar eclipses take place during full moon phase. The shadow, though, has two parts. An umbra and penumbra. The umbra is the central, darker part of the shadow. The penumbra is the outer, lighter shadow. If the moon travels through the penumbra, the alignment of the sun, earth and moon is not so straight and the moon will only get a little dimmer. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse. If the moon completely travels through the umbra, then the alignment is very good and the moon will get quite dark. This is called a total lunar eclipse. If the moon only travels through part of the umbra, then it is called a partial lunar eclipse.

A total lunar eclipse can be startling since the earth’s round shadow (proof that the earth is round and not flat) seems to take a bite out of the very bright full moon. Another interesting aspect is that the shadow is not starkly black. There is a gradual fading due to the earth’s atmosphere. And, if that weren’t enough, the earth’s atmosphere acts as a filter to tint the shadow red. Particulate matter like dust, pollen, volcanic ash, and more can scatter the sun’s light as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere and then shine onto the eclipsed moon. This scattering reddens the light. If the earth’s air is clean, then there is almost no reddening. If there happen to be a large volcanic eruption with lots of ash suspended in the upper atmosphere of the earth, then that can deeply redden the light. However red an eclipse may be, it is always a lot of fun to watch the slow progression from a bright, full moon to a dim, red moon.

How to View:

Lunar eclipses are easy to view. Since most anyone can see the full moon with their unaided eyes, then that is all that you need. It will be obvious over the eclipses’ few hours the gradual dimming and, hopefully, reddening of the moon. The stars in the background will not be washed out and so the eclipsed moon can look very three-dimensional against the background stars. If you have a pair of binoculars, then your view will be slightly magnified, but will really emphasize that 3-D look during mid-eclipse. A telescope allows an eerie view of the reddened moon. Any way you look, it is really neat.

If you want to photograph this event, you can try with your digital camera, especially if it allows a longer exposure. Try different settings and experiment. Get something in the foreground for interest and composition.

When & Where to Look:

The April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse will be seen anywhere in this area. But, it is very late at night. Here are the times:

1st contact: 1:58 a.m. EDT – when the earth’s shadow just touches the edge of the moon
mid eclipse: 3:46 a.m. EDT – when the moon is deepest in the earth’s shadow
4th contact: 5:33 a.m. EDT – when the earth’s shadow just leaves the edge of the moon
moon sets: 6:58 a.m. EDT

As you can see, mid eclipse is very late (or really early morning). Good luck, hope for clear weather, and enjoy!

———————————————————————-

How to View Comet ISON – Winter, 2013

Special Note:  Comet ISON has disintegrated upon its passage around the sun during perihelion on Nov. 28. As such, the comet will NOT be visible other than very large telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope will be used once the comet (of what remains) is far enough away from the sun. The disruption of the comet nucleus was one of the options offered in the last paragraph in the “What is it?” section. We were all hoping for a great view post perihelion, but comets do what they will. Some are more hearty than others. ISON did provide some nice views just prior to perihelion, but what makes this comet very interesting is that it behaved quite differently than other sun-grazing comets. This is quite exciting for astronomers!

The following is for reference only.

Note, this is an observing opportunity for you to do at home.

 

What is it?

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is making its way around the sun for its one and only inner Solar System visit. Comet ISON was discovered in 2012 by a sky survey that was looking for earth-crossing asteroids. Thus the unusual ISON acronym name.
Comets come from a place called the Oort Cloud. Named after Dutch astronomer Jan Oort |yän ôrt|, this huge spherical cloud surrounds the sun at a distance roughly 50,000 times farther from the sun than we are. Being so far from the sun and comprised of very low density material, they are made of ices and dust. Comets are best described as dirty snowballs.
Once a comet’s slow movement has been disturbed in some way, probably due to an impact with another comet, it may head inwards towards the sun. Sometimes they don’t come close to the sun and make a wide orbit. Sometimes they head straight for the sun. Others, though, may orbit the sun, but get very close to the sun’s surface. These are called sun grazers. Comet ISON is a sun grazer.
The closer a comet gets to the sun, the faster it will travel. Comet ISON will careen around the sun on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28, 2013) at a speed of 845,000 mph! This closest approach to the sun is called perihelion. Peri-from the Greek for around and, in astronomy, means closest approach to a celestial object. Helion-based on the Greek for sun (helios).
The closer a comet gets to the sun, the more the surface of ancient ice boils away. As such, expectations are high for a great show. But, the reality of comet viewing is that all we know are two main things. Where it will be in the sky and the range of possible brightness and tail length. Most comets are either viewable only in a telescope or maybe binoculars. If they can be viewed with the unaided eye, then it is rarer. If it is obviously bright in the sky, then that is the rarest of all. Comet ISON has the potential to be bright, but we should expect fainter views viewable through binoculars. This is actually very good. High expectations usually lead to disappointment. Modest expectations are best and we’ll all be thrilled if it performs better. That is a BIG “if.”
Comets have a few main parts. The nucleus is the actual comet body of ice and dust. Their size is usually in the couple of miles wide range. In photographs, the bright dot in the center is the nucleus. The coma is the large, round glow that surrounds the nucleus. These range from the size of the moon or larger. This is made from the evaporating gasses of the comet nucleus. There can be two tails as well. One is the dust tail and is essentially the trail of debris of ice and dust left behind the comet nucleus. Dust tails are white and diffuse. The other tail is bluish since it is caused by the interaction with the sun’s charged particles that constantly leave the sun in all directions. Therefore, the gas (or ion) tail always points directly away from the sun and can display tenuous filaments.
One last note. Comets do what they will. We are witnessing the erosion of a large, icy body in space that is traveling very fast and will travel very close to the sun. Comet ISON will travel through the sun’s corona. This is like throwing a large snowball through a massive furnace. We’re not sure what will come out the other end. Comet ISON could boil away a lot of ice and produce a very bright and long tail. Or, it may not boil so much away and the tail will be decent, but not very bright. Or, the comet nucleus could be gravitationally disrupted by the sun (torn apart) and destroy the comet. The comet could also experience an outburst and look OK one morning and look fantastic the next. All of these unknowns makes comet viewing exciting and unpredictable.

What to Expect & How to View

As stated before, we should hope for at least a comet that is viewable through binoculars, but will hopefully be brighter. A telescopic view will mainly show the coma region, but we all want to see the whole thing. The full comet with tails stretching out. It is possible that the tails will be long and bright, but please don’t count on that. You will probably see both of the tails, but notice that their orientation changes dramatically from one week to the next. When a comet approaches the sun, both tails point away from the sun. As the comet passes perihelion, the gas tail will always point away from the sun, but the dust tail will lag behind since it is not as affected by the sun’s solar wind. The tails will separate more and more.
Use binoculars and bring a camera. Most digital cameras may not capture a faint comet, but try anyway. If it works, try a picture with your family in the foreground. Definitely try to get a tree or mountain in the image for a great composition.
If you are artistically talented, try sketching the comet. Make sure you include the comet’s name, your place, date, time and name, weather and sky conditions, and any other information that will help make your drawing a great keepsake years from now.

Where to View in the Sky

The comet will be visible low in the ESE pre-dawn sky from about mid-November to mid-December 2013. Perihelion is November 28, 2013. These are the best times to view, but the farther from perihelion, the fainter the comet will be. Telescopically, the comet will be visible for months. Be aware, that at perihelion, the comet may not be visible due to its close position to the sun. Never look at the sun, but do try to see the comet every morning. Each day it will look different, especially right after perihelion.
The best thing to do is to find a close by place to your home very soon that is safe and has a low ESE horizon that is not blocked by trees or lights. You do not want to find a place to view on the morning you want to view. Find a place now and know that you will be prepared. Make sure that you have binoculars ready and learn if your camera can take a very low light picture. Practice using that camera’s setting and use a tripod if you have one.

This map shows the path of Comet ISON surrounding perihelion. The path is correct against the background stars and in relation to the sun’s position. The map shows the sky at 7 a.m. for the dates listed. To see the comet, it will need to be about 6 a.m., so the sky with sun, stars, and comet will be lower, towards the horizon. Image modified from Starry Night Pro.

The map image you see here shows the position of the nucleus of Comet ISON from November 5 to December 15, 2013. The sky is set so that you can see the position of the comet against the background stars and in relation to the position of the sun. Notice the sun image is on the horizon. This is about 7 a.m. To view at around 6 a.m., imagine the horizon to be up as high as the word “Libra.”
Bays Mountain Park will not be hosting a viewing since we are not able to see that part of the sky from our observatories. As stated earlier, all you need is a pair of binoculars to enjoy this unique experience. Keep looking each morning and relive the excitement of our ancestors who didn’t know what a comet really was, but thought of these celestial visitors as “hairy stars” that foretold strange omens.

More

Bays Mountain Planetarium has a special planetarium show offered through to the end of the year entitled “Comets & Discovery.” You’ll learn much more about comets and a bit of history regarding the discovery of comets. Please see the planetarium page for show times.

Image of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) taken October 9, 2013 by the Hubble Space Telescope. Notice the pinpoint bright spot at the head of the comet. That is the nucleus. The slightly larger round glow around the nucleus is the coma. The white, diffuse tail is the dust tail, the greenish glow is the ion tail reacting to the sun’s charged particles.

 

Links

Following are a few links with good information about Comet ISON.

Click here to link to good information from NASA including pictures and an interactive comet journey activity.

Click here for detailed, very scientific information about Comet ISON.

———————————————————————-

A Hybrid Solar Eclipse for November 3, 2013

 

Note, this is an observing opportunity for you to do at home.

 

What is it?

An unusual type of solar eclipse will occur in the wee hours of the morning of November 3, 2013. It is called a hybrid solar eclipse. It will start as an annular eclipse in which the moon will appear slightly smaller than the sun in the sky when it crosses in front of the sun. The result will be a thin ring of sunlight surrounding the sun. To see this, you will need to be 600 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, FL in the Atlantic Ocean. Then the moon’s shadow will continue to race across the surface of the earth towards the east. As it does so, the curvature of the earth’s surface will be just enough for us non-astronauts to be ever so closer to the moon to cause a total solar eclipse. This is when the moon looks larger in the sky (due to our slightly closer position) to totally block the sun. Yes, the moon’s distance from the earth is just on the edge of being too far away to see a total solar eclipse. Don’t worry, though. It’ll take about 1.4 billion years for the moon to slowly spiral away at its current average of 2.2 cm/year to look too small to fully block the sun.

What does this mean for us in the Tri-Cities?

We happen to be just east of the boundary line for this event, so we have a chance to see a tiny part of a partial solar eclipse. This is when only a part of the sun is blocked by the moon. This looks like the sun has a small bite taken from it. We will be extremely lucky to see anything at all due to the sun rising already in eclipse and ending about ten minutes later. Here are all the circumstances to be met to be able to see this partial eclipse:
1. The sky will have to be clear in the southeast.
2. You will need a clear view down to the TRUE east southeastern horizon.
3. The above points will need to be true for about ten minutes just after sunrise. Sunrise is at 6:56 a.m. EST. Note, Daylight Saving Time ends earlier this morning and so the 6:56 a.m. EST time is after the 1 hour fall-back correction.
4. You MUST use a proper filter to look at the sun directly. Or, you can safely project the image of the sun like in our Super Sun Viewer that you can make.

How to View?

As stated earlier, you can project the image of the sun easily for safe viewing. Essentially, you need a piece of foil that is reinforced with clear tape on both sides and make a small, very clean pin hole in the taped area. Get or make a long (~4 ft.) cardboard box and cut a hole in one end that is about an inch wide. Take that foil with the pin hole and tape it inside the box where the inch wide hole is in the cardboard. Place a piece of white paper inside the other end of the long box to project the image onto. Then, cut a viewing portal on the side of the long box near the white paper to see the projected image. Point the end with the foil toward the sun and look at the image on the white paper.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to host a viewing as our observatories do not have a view of the ESE sky and the chance of clouds is too great. But, you may be able to see the sun from your backyard and project the image of the sun for the short period time of the eclipse.

Click here to open the Super Sun Viewer PDF document.

Here are some related links to some information and images about the November 3rd hybrid solar eclipse:
Sky & Telescope
Eclipse Maps

Small image of unique map showing the viewing opportunities for the November 3, 2013 hybrid solar eclipse. Courtesy of eclipse-maps.com.

———————————————————————-

Mercury Transit – May 9, 2016

It’s been ten years since tiny planet Mercury was seen to pass in front of the immense, but extremely far away Sun. Because of this rarity, the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club will be co-hosting a free, special public observing event with the ETSU Physics Department. A number of telescopes with proper filtration will be available. Observing is weather dependent. If clear, it will occur on Monday, May 9, 2016 at the ETSU CPA Front or Side Yard from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If the weather does not cooperate, the public viewing will be cancelled.

The Yards are located on ETSU grounds in Johnson City, TN at the intersection of Go Bucs Trail and Jack Vest Drive. This is very close to the intersection of W. State of Franklin Road and Jack Vest Drive. Please see the photo map for details. Click image for a larger version.

Image from Google Maps showing location and times for the Mercury transit public viewings on May 9, 2016 at ETSU.

A Mercury Transit is an unique occurrence when Mercury passes in front of the Sun. Mercury is – transiting – the Sun. The attached image shows that the alignment is not perfect, but cuts a chord across the Sun. Even so, this transit will take seven hours. It starts at 7:12 a.m. and ends at 2:42 p.m. with mid-transit occurring at 10:57 a.m. All times are EDT. Click image for larger version.

Details for the Mercury transit on May 9, 2016 for East Tennessee.

Notice how tiny Mercury will look compared to the Sun. 285 Mercurys can fit lined up across the Sun. Mercury’s angular size will only be 10 arc-seconds. The sun will be 194 times wider! It will be difficult to see Mercury with the UNMAGNIFIED eye.

NOTE: You MUST view with proper filtration whenever looking at the Sun. Proper solar-eclipse glasses are good, but make sure there is no damage to the filter such as pinholes or severe scratches. Viewing the Sun with a telescope requires an appropriately proper filter for magnified use. If you are not sure of a filter’s safety, then DON’T USE IT. We cannot stress the importance of SAFETY FIRST!

To learn more about the Mercury transit, Bays Mountain Productions has created a wonderful planetarium program for you to enjoy. Click here for more information. Click on the tab labeled: “The Transit of Mercury – Featuring “Solar Quest” Details – 2/2/16-5/8/16.”